Group opposed to peace deal eyed in hotel blastBy Jamie Marie Elona, Maila Ager
MANILA, Philippines— Police on Thursday said investigators are not discounting the possibility that a group opposed to the peace deal between the government and Moro rebels was behind the hotel blast in Cagayan de Oro City.
Two people were killed and two police officers were injured after an improvised explosive device (IED) went off near a hotel in Cagayan de Oro City before dawn Thursday, police said.
“Wala pang strong evidence linking yung explosion sa peace deal pero syempre hindi mo pwedeng basta i-rule out yun sa investigation lalo na nakaka-receive kami ng intelligence report na allegedly yung isang grupong disgruntled ay manggugulo daw dahil dun sa peace deal,” Superintendent Gil Hitosis, Region 10 acting police director, said.
(No strong evidence yet linking the explosion to the peace deal but of course you cannot just rule it out in the investigation, especially when there’s an intelligence report that allegedly a disgruntled group is plotting to stir up trouble due to the peace deal.)
The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), have reached a preliminary peace deal that is a major breakthrough toward ending a decades-long insurgency that killed tens of thousands and held back development in the south.
The agreement, announced Sunday and to be signed Oct. 15 in Manila, spells out principles on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory of the Muslim region. If all goes well, a final peace deal could be reached by 2016, when President Benigno Aquino III’s six-year term ends, officials said.
The extremist group Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, a faction led by Ameril Umra Kato (formerly the commander of the MILF’s 105th Base commander) that broke away from the MILF in mid-August 2011, are not party to the peace agreement.
Hitosis said police also received disturbing information about the group of Umbra Kato.
“…Yung isang grupo naman, yung kay Umbra Kato, ay may plano to harass three to four towns sa Lanao de Norte,” Hitosis added.
City police chief Senior Superintendent Gerardo Rosales said an IED exploded near the Maxandrea Hotel along J.R. Borja Street at around 2 a.m., killing Rudy Jote an employee of the Willshire Inn, and a certain “Toto,” a multicab dispatcher.
Rosales police received a phone call from a hotel security officer about a suspicious package. Responding authorities arrived and saw a can that has a cellular phone attached to it.
“Seeing this, the first responders called the bomb squad, but the IED exploded even before they were able to move to safety,” he said, causing injuries to Police Officer 1 Rogelio Canilanza and Police Officer 1 Dexter Dano.
Police said closed circuit television footage showed three unidentified men planting the IED.
Meanwhile, Hitosis said another bomb was found around 7:30 a.m. planted under a pickup truck parked near the blast site. The bomb was detonated hours later.
He said that a full alert status has been declared in the area and checkpoints have also been put up to intercept weapons and explosives.
The Cagayan de Oro blast came hours after a grenade a grenade exploded near a street corner in Zamboanga City on Wednesday afternoon. The explosion occurred at the corner of Camins and Nuñez streets around 5:25 p.m., a report released by the Directorate for Integrated Police Operation (Dipo) in Western Mindanao said. The victims, who were rushed to a hospital due to minor injuries, were identified as Peter Carpio, 12, and Rudid Bejerano, 20.
Metro Manila was also gripped by bomb scares.
A bomb hoax at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Intramuros caused traffic congestion in Manila on Tuesday and a bomb scare at the Lyceum of the Philippines University Manila on Wednesday force school authorities to suspend work and classes.
Last Saturday, a bomb scare at LRT 2 Recto station disrupted train operations for hours.
Signing of deal to push through
Meanwhile, chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen denied on Thursday that the hotel blast in Cagayan de Oro was connected with the latest peace agreement between the government and the MILF.
“Wala kaming natatanggap na report na ganyan. Baka false alarm lang yan (We received no such report. It might be a false alarm),” Leonen said in an interview over the phone.
“Hindi totoo from our end (From our end it’s not true),” he said.
Even an intelligence report, Leonen said, made no mention about any link between the blast and the peace agreement.
While there may a few who were opposed to the peace pact, Leonen said, most of the reactions that they received were in favor of it.
“As far as I can see the reaction was very positive to the peace agreement…” he said.
Leonen saw no reason why the signing of the framework agreement between the two parties would not push through next week.